Rheumatoid arthritis patients are in and out of doctor appointments, so how can one make each visit productive?
For people who live with rheumatoid arthritis, doctor appointments are part of life. After you have been diagnosed and start a treatment plan, you will continue with appointments on a periodic basis to monitor disease activity and medication side effects, and to address new concerns as they develop.
What Makes a Rheumatologist Appointment Positive and Effective?
Too often, people living with rheumatoid arthritis come away from their doctor appointments feeling dissatisfied — or even worse — like they don’t know what just happened. It is important to have an effective appointment. By “an effective appointment,” I mean that you need to accomplish certain things while you are with your rheumatologist and not allow time to tick away, nor overlook what needs to be discussed. I know what you are thinking right now: The doctor controls the appointment. Yes, this is true, to some degree. But there are also things you can do to ensure an effective appointment.
Be ready. I can’t emphasize that enough. Be ready for your appointment by preparing a list of questions for your rheumatologist. Remember that time is limited, so prioritize your questions to be sure that the most important questions are answered first. In an effort to get all of your questions answered, be reasonable with the number of questions you have on your list and do what you can to move the dialogue along once you get the desired answer. Also, bring a pen and small notebook with you so you will be ready to jot down any pertinent answers or suggestions your rheumatologist provides.
This seems like obvious advice, to have a list of questions and to bring a notebook, since most people assume they will remember. It’s a tough lesson to learn that it’s difficult to retain everything a doctor says to you.
Stay Focused and On Task
I will always remember a family member who, years ago, chatted up her doctor about what he thought of Michael Jackson’s sad and sudden death. They talked the entire time about that and spent little time on my family member’s condition — and she left without her refills, too! Moral of the story: A doctor’s time is not limitless and it is easy to get derailed unless you are prepared.
Answer Honestly to ‘How Are You?’
When your rheumatologist enters the exam room, expect to be greeted with a generic “how are you” or similar words. Use that as your opportunity to indicate that you have had changes since your last appointment or that you have some questions. That sets the tenor for the appointment as it lets the doctor know right away there is ground to cover.
Too often, people automatically respond to “how are you” by saying “fine” or “doing okay.” It has become habitual to do that, but it doesn’t work well in a doctor’s office.
Discuss New Symptoms or Other Health Concerns
After the generic greeting is behind you, your rheumatologist may ask for more details regarding what has changed since your last visit. If you keep a symptom diary, produce it and go over the important aspects. If you don’t have a symptom diary, hopefully you have in your notes what you want to be sure to mention.
Your doctor doesn’t read minds, so it’s your responsibility to bring up significant changes or concerns. It doesn’t work in your favor to be shy or embarrassed, or to withhold information for any reason. Give your rheumatologist the necessary information so that he or she can help you.
Karen’s Experience With Long-Term Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
Karen Palmer, a rheumatoid arthritis patient in Mason, Ohio, says, “My rheumatologist trusts what I tell him about what is going on. We rely mostly on symptoms. We will generally have a discussion of options before jointly deciding the next move. I had a lot more questions when I was newly diagnosed than I do now more than 30 years in, but I still make sure I understand everything we discuss.”
Review Test Results to Prepare for Discussion
If you had tests ordered, be sure you go over the results and what they mean. While it seems like that is the doctor’s responsibility, and it is, a doctor is sometimes at the mercy of his office staff. In case the results are not presented to you, know what you had done and know it is perfectly appropriate to ask for the results.
Get Printed Copies of All Test Results
Be sure to get printed copies of all test results, including laboratory tests and imaging studies. That goes for normal, as well as abnormal, results. Keep the results as part of your complete medical history. If the time comes when you need to look back, you will easily be able to see when things changed or how well you managed the disease while on particular drugs.
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